Keep lapses involving public funds to a minimum

I am reassured by the statement in Parliament by Senior Minister of State for Finance Indranee Rajah that lapses over public funds reported by the Auditor-General's Office across various government ministries and agencies last month do not reflect systemic weaknesses ("Govt responds to lapses found by AGO"; Wednesday).

While this assurance gives us comfort that our systems are transparent and accountable, it should not be forgotten that public funds are involved.

Therefore, there is a greater need to tighten controls so as to ensure that individual officers in agencies and departments are sufficiently rigorous in ensuring compliance with prescribed procedures.

Any loss of public funds arising from a laxity of financial procedures, errors of judgment and inadequate supervision of officers dealing with public monies should not be taken lightly, because if left unattended, they could, over time, become more serious and reflect systemic weaknesses.

Any system is only as good as the officers manning it, so we should not rest on our laurels or accept that it is normal for lapses to occur when it comes to dealing with public monies.

While zero tolerance may not be practical in view of the fact that financial transactions run into enormous figures, it is vital that lapses be kept to the barest minimum.

Here, it is important that officers exercise due diligence in performing their duties with adequate controls to ensure that rules and regulations are followed.

More thought should also be given to introducing electronic systems that could save money, enhance transparency and minimise human intervention in the management and use of public funds.

The need for integrity in our systems cannot be underestimated if we want to maintain a clean, honest and efficient government.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2016, with the headline 'Keep lapses involving public funds to a minimum'. Print Edition | Subscribe